The Bourne Conspiracy Review
Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne character has already gone through three installments on the silver screen, and most action fans will agree that each were very well done and wildly entertaining. Therefore, in their effort to make a video game based on the forgetful spy, High Moon Studios had a solid concept to work with, provided they implemented the technical aspects correctly. Going in, the idea was excellent, and there are certainly a lot of Bourne fans out there. But so many times in the past, we’ve seen great movies turned into horrifically bad interactive experiences, and we’ve been getting quite tired of the trend. One might assume that if Hollywood would recognize the gaming industry for the monster of a profit-maker it is, they just might want to have a video game that doesn’t sully the good name of the film. Sadly, all we ever seem to get are mediocre adaptations, and in some cases, that’s being generous. But with The Bourne Conspiracy, we actually have a worthwhile adventure that is both fun and invigorating.
The graphics aren’t the best part of the game, but they do suffice. The cut-scenes are of a very high quality, but the gameplay graphics suffer from a decided lack of clarity in certain areas. There are plenty of rough edges if you simply stop running about and focus in on the surrounding environment, but at the same time, there really aren’t any major flaws. The detailing is good, the explosive effects during periods of intense action are better, and there’s enough visual diversity in the background to satisfy most gamers. Jason Bourne doesn’t exactly look like Matt Damon, but then again, this game is not based on any one Bourne film, so perhaps this character is closer to Ludlum’s description of him in the books. We did find the graphical presentation to be a little too dark on the whole, though, even when we were operating in the out-of-doors. Sunlight doesn’t necessarily disappear simply because the situation is metaphorically dark… Anyway, while the graphics are the least impressive aspect of The Bourne Conspiracy, they’re still better than average and in general, they fit the bill.
The sound is marginally better, which makes it quite good in our opinion. Led by surprisingly top-notch voice acting and a musical score that assists in adding to the overall presentation, the sound excels. The effects, on the other hand, sometimes get muddled with the voices and exclamations during combat, and while the gunfire sounds both accurate and has the appropriate impact (bullets flying while under cover is frightening!), it’s not spot-on. The effectual soundtrack can also fall a little flat simply because the effects will easily take center stage and override the music. But the good definitely outweighs the bad, as both Bourne fans and avid gamers will appreciate the effort placed into the voice acting, the up-close-and-personal battle effects, and the soundtrack that should remind everyone of the movies. Despite a small lack of balance, there really isn’t much to complain about, and that should come as good news. Really, though, how come bullets tearing through wood is so awesome, but a shotgun sounds so weak…? Kinda weird.
But hey, they got a whole lot of stuff right with The Bourne Conspiracy. The gameplay holds steady with the technical features of this production, and first and foremost, we’re going to tackle the basic controls. Bourne can’t jump on his own (not without being prompted), but he can crouch, run, sprint, hide behind cover, aim over both shoulders, carry two different weapons at once, interact with doors and other environmental objects, and even execute running Takedowns. We’ll get to those in just a minute, but it’s enough to say for now that the controls work very well. We had a small issue in regards to responsiveness – we once found ourselves pressing the X button to duck for cover five times before Bourne responded – but all in all, the controls that lay the groundwork for the gameplay are quite accessible. You will use most of the buttons on the controller, but the development team mapped them nicely, so your fingers are never strangely cramping in the midst of hectic sequences. We weren’t a huge fan of holding down the L2 button to holster our weapon, but that’s more of a personal preference than a jab at the game’s quality.
Now, on to the first and perhaps most important part of the gameplay: the hand-to-hand combat. You’ll be tossed into these encounters directly from the start, and we have to admit, we were very happy with the result. So many developers in the recent past have attempted third-person hand-to-hand action, and so many times, the idea has fallen well short of expectations. And it would’ve been an awful tragedy to screw it up in this particular game, because the Bourne movies are well known for their wonderfully choreographed fight scenes. Thankfully, the choreography, while not as flashy or quick as it was in the films, is excellent in this game, as is the actual hand-to-hand mechanic itself. You can execute a light attack with the Square button, a heavy attack with the Triangle button, and block with the X button. This is pretty straightforward, but these aren’t your standard, everyday, one-on-one encounters. Many times, Bourne will be forced to fight more than one assailant, and that’s when things get interesting.
There’s a meter on the right side of the screen that fills with each successful attack (be it fighting or shooting); this is the Adrenaline Meter, and there are three bars. When one bar is full, you can rip off a cool Takedown on your foes, and better yet, this translates to the third-person shooting as well. When a bar is all blue and glowing, you will have the option to press Circle at any time during the action to execute a Takedown; Jason will either pull off a very sweet combo in hand-to-hand fighting, or fire a single deadly bullet that always hits the target. Now, if you want to wait until two or three bars are full, that gives you the chance to perform a multiple Takedown. Basically, you will do the first Takedown, then time will slow and a button prompt will show up at the bottom of the screen; press it in time, and he continues with the next Takedown. And again, this works for both bare-fisted fighting and firefights, which adds extra flair. But before branching off into the third-person shooting, let’s just stick with the hand-to-hand for a minute longer.
Thing is, it’s the urgency and tenseness of these encounters that makes them work. You never feel overmatched, but you also don’t feel as if your opponents are uncoordinated duds, and timing and strategy both play a role. Holding down the Square and Triangle buttons will unleash a kick, but you need the time to perform the move, and some fast bosses won’t even let it happen. Furthermore, those bosses will attempt Takedowns on you, which means you’ll have to act fast once again. A sound effect warns you it’s coming, time slows once again, and the button prompt pops up at the bottom of the screen. Hit it in time, and you’ll counter the attempt. If not…you’ll probably be facedown. The same thing happens when you’re surrounded by multiple foes; if someone goes to attack you while you’re squaring off with one guy, you’ll have a chance to counter it quickly. Lastly, this is all in real-time, so just because you’re involved in a fight doesn’t mean you can’t still get shot. However, as you can maneuver about, you can sometimes place your enemies in the line of fire!
However, this can be tough to do, just because the camera is so tight on the action that you usually don’t know where the bullets are coming from. In general, it’s a bad idea to get caught out in the open during a firefight, anyway. Oh, and let’s not forget about being able to use certain parts of the environment during a Takedown. It will happen automatically, but the effect is still awesome. For example, we were facing off with one particularly tough opponent and executed a Takedown when standing near a photocopier. Bourne countered the attack, then smashed the guy’s head into the glass of the copier. This type of thing would continue to happen; remember when Bourne used the book in that fight in The Bourne Ultimatum? Yeah, we did that here, too. It’s too bad we couldn’t interact with the environment ourselves, but you can always look for parts of the background that you might be able to use to your advantage during a Takedown. On the other hand, we could never quite figure out if doing that caused any more damage than a regular ol’ Takedown…but whatever.
This is by far the best part of the game, and we can’t say the third-person shooting aspect is as good. The aiming is a little loose, and while you can use just about anything for cover, the camera isn’t always in the best spot. You have full control of it, yes, but it’s tough to position the camera and attempt to see where the attack is coming from while ducking for cover. The environments aren’t small, so sometimes, you’re blindsided with an attack, and it’s during those situations where we felt the most helpless. Sprinting is a good option when being fired upon from a helicopter, for instance, but when you’re hemmed in on all sides, where’s the best place for cover? Too many times we died and had to reload simply because we weren’t sure of our position, and/or we weren’t sure what to do next. The map is passable at best, as there are icons that mark your destination and enemies, but it never gives you a direct path. And with plenty of dead ends during some missions, this can get both problematic and annoying. Sure, it’s good to explore, but there’s not much point in this game.
You can search for Passports, which are scattered about each level and will unlock extra content, but that’s about it. It’s nice to be able to sit back and view a large area, though, because stealth can and does play a role if you’re patient. Provided you’re not seen, you can holster your weapon, sneak up behind an unsuspecting enemy, and perform an instant Takedown. As for the AI, it’s very good. If you’ve nailed a guy once or twice, he isn’t going to sit around waiting for you to finish him off. He’ll move and try to find better cover, which enhances the realism and authenticity of this game a great deal. Furthermore, they’re very good shots, and if you wait long enough, they will attempt to move in for the kill, which means there’s almost always a sense of urgency. We mentioned this before, but we think it’s crucial to have this in a game that puts you in the shoes of an elite government spy and assassin. This isn’t a fun-filled day at the park with picnics and sunbathing, you know. We absolutely must be on the edge of our seats, or the desired effect is lost.
It’s just too bad that certain details of the shooting didn’t work as well as they should’ve, because we could’ve had a stellar title, here. They didn’t seem to want to fix on one single targeting mechanic, as you can sometimes automatically follow a moving enemy without using the L1 button to aim, but other times, it just doesn’t work. By pressing that same button, you can pop out from behind cover and fire, and sometimes, you will aim directly at a foe…and sometimes you won’t. It almost made more sense to avoid the L1 button and just run around in third-person mode with the gun drawn, ignoring cover unless we absolutely needed it. At least the roving dot we had for aiming seemed traditional and effective; the rest acts as if they couldn’t decide on the exact right way to handle the gunfights. On top of which, the collision detection left a little to be desired; we would fire directly at the chest of an enemy three times and hit nothing. Then we’d do the exact same thing five seconds later, and kill him. Erratic.
As for the story, we already told you that this doesn’t focus on any one Bourne movie, but we’ll say that it revolves mostly around “The Bourne Identity,” because the first few hours of the game acts as a direct prequel. You will be running around with Bourne on his mission to assassinate Wombosi, which is what he failed to do, and you learn about this through flashbacks in “Identity.” They do a fine job of dropping in recognizable parts of the movie along with the new story components we’ve never seen before, and that’s a big bonus for Bourne fans. The whole point of this game is to deliver plot points never before seen in any of the movies, and of course, the other object of the video game endeavor is to put us in the shoes of that $30 million dollar weapon. Perhaps surprisingly (remember, we’re not used to decent games based on movies, or books, or whatever), we really do feel as if we’re playing the role of Jason Bourne, and that means High Moon fulfilled their two goals. At least, that’s how we see it.
The camera is fully functional despite a few flaws here and there when it sits too close, the story and action is well paced, our options for hand-to-hand fighting or shooting make us feel in complete control of the adventure, and there’s really nothing cooler than some of the moves we get to see in the bare-knuckle battles. The graphics are fine, the sound is good – and even great in several respects – the control is solid, and best of all, we’re continually entertained. Unfortunately, there are several significant drawbacks, and these revolve around the less-than-impressive third-person shooting, which we do a lot of. The level design is great, but we just felt as if they didn’t do enough with it, and sometimes, it felt as if the hand-to-hand combat, as fun as it was, just dragged on too long. We didn’t forget about Bourne Vision, which highlights points of interest in your environment, but it seemed like more of an unnecessary add-on than anything significant. We do admit to using it several times to our benefit, though.
In the end, The Bourne Conspiracy hits just a few rings away from the bulls-eye. It’s not quite as polished as we would’ve hoped, and we wanted better visuals and a bit more variety in the gameplay, but we still had a lot of fun playing it. Some may say it’s too short (and there’s no motivation to play through it again), but in all honesty, it seems to be about the right length. The hand-to-hand combat is extremely well designed, and while there is a quality contrast with the shooting, ducking for cover and becoming involved in a massive firefight is always an engrossing and relatively nerve-wracking experience. It might not be worth the full $60 for everyone, but it’s certainly worth a try for those who have all three Bourne movies in their DVD collection. This is the second good video game based on a movie (or set of movies) we’ve played in 2008 – the other was LuxoFlux’s Kung Fu Panda – so are we seeing the start of a new trend? They’ve still got a ways to go, but productions like these are a whole lot better than what we’ve grown accustomed to over the years. Quite refreshing.
7/19/2008 Ben Dutka